SUNDANCE 2020 FILM REVIEW! I was not fully prepared for the level of artistic talent that writer-director Remi Weekes displayed in his feature-length debut His House. The story centers on a Sudanese couple that seeks asylum in England, only for matters to get far worse than anyone expected. The film is shot beautifully and exhibits Weekes’ command of cinematic craft on a jaw-dropping level. What’s more, the story he tells is a universal one that is upended, using familiar horror tropes to heighten the levels of anxiety and fear that refugees so often experience when entering a foreign land. The effect is a horror movie that is equal parts commentary and morality tale.
There are signs early on that something went horribly wrong for the couple. An unfortunate death while escaping to England haunts both the man (Sope Dirisu) and the woman (Wunmi Mosaku). They seem distant and distracted while going through the intake process and are immediately placed in government housing while they wade through the process of becoming citizens of the country.
It turns out that citizenship and a place to stay are the least of their worries. Weekes here takes the time to follow our two leads as they come face to face with the anxiety and rejections of being strangers in a new land. Then they start to hear noises inside their surprisingly spacious two-story flat.
“…they start to hear noises inside their surprisingly spacious two-story flat.”
First comes the scuttling. Rats, they think. Then as the man explores behind the crumbling walls, nightmarish visions begin to haunt his waking hours. The ghosts of their past linger and dart from the shadows, driving them both to near insanity. Easily some of the most chilling moments of the year so far, His House utilizes brilliant editing and camera work that recalls James Wan’s precision and understanding of the art of the scare. Not leaving the woman out of the equation, she begins connecting with the entities haunting the couple, threatening her husband with blood magic, and the idea that one of them must be sacrificed for the nightmares to stop.
With truly haunting imagery, Weekes masterfully balances humor, horror, and magical realism to tell a story of the growing fears of the refugee. Through theatrical, nightmarish visions, we discover what the couple escaped from, what happened during their journey to a new place of hope, and what specifically haunts them to the core. Jo Willems’s lensing jumps from cold and realistic to vibrant and surreal must be commended. The story was greatly enhanced by the use of lighting, composition, and the production design from Thalia Ecclestone and Matt Fraser.
Simultaneously intimate and scale and speaking to a much grander story of the cost of the refugee crisis in England, His House humanizes the difficult circumstances that can too easily be ignored by those of more means. This is horror with a message that is balanced with some genuine thrills along the way. Keep your eyes peeled for what Remi Weekes pulls off next. I am sure it will be most interesting.
His House screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
"…intimate and scale and speaking to a much grander story of the cost of the refugee crisis..."